I'm not active duty anymore, but I did complete a PhD when I was on active duty. I was selected through a competitive board process, and I had a PCS assignment to attend school (that was my duty assignment for three years). I completed all of the coursework and my comprehensive exams during my three years on campus, and then finished the dissertation at my follow-on assignment. In total, it took me ~6 years, but I know a number of officers who completed it in a shorter time frame. The key is going into the doctoral program having a good idea of what you want to do your dissertation on, and then having access to the necessary data. Also, I was in the Army Medical Department. Civilian schooling is one of the best-kept secrets of the Army Medical Department, but other branches also have great opportunities.
That would be near impossible. The only way you would be able to do is if you were to into a military program that lets you go to school but then you return to the Army. I know a lot of medical officers do this and then they return to the Army as a medical officer with a hefty commitment.
A now deceased friend was a McNamera selectee for a PhD degree while serving as an Air Force Officer. Stationed at Wright Patterson, he would check out an airplane and fly to research destinations as a qualified 0-6 pilot. Jack was a Navigator early on in WW II and only needed to complete 25 missions to return CONUS - for good; he did not have to return to Britain for a second tour.
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